This Sunday, I glanced out the
kitchen window and noted with pleasure that the sun had come out. It was also snowing fairly heavily. I turned back to the turkey I was stuffing only to realize that I’d lived in New Mexico long enough that heavy snowfall combined with bright sunshine no longer seemed worthy of comment.
What’s weird depends largely on your expectations.
Back when I was still teaching at Lynchburg College in Virginia, Roger Zelazny came as a guest speaker. I’d told my students they could have extra credit for attending the lecture and writing me a short essay about it. What fascinated me when I read those essays is that every single one of these students mentioned that Roger was wearing jewelry. That jewelry wasn’t extensive – a silver belt buckle and a silver ring, as I recall – but to my students, mostly products of the East Coast, many from New England or New York, a man wearing any ornamentation other than a plain gold wedding ring was worthy of comment.
I’ve lived in the southwest for over fifteen years now and I’ll admit that when I fly East I watch as the idea of normal shifts. Facial hair on men begins to vanish (whereas here the majority of my male friends wear at least a mustache, usually with a short beard). Jewelry on men goes away and even the wedding rings get thinner. Women’s clothing becomes more homogenous and more conventionally “feminine.” Jewelry becomes less individualistic.
“Normal” isn’t restricted to appearance, of course. Several years ago, Jim and I took my mom to a Western Regional Science Fiction convention (Westercon). I was tickled by how Mom enjoyed herself. She appreciated the work that had gone into the costumes. She was interested in the panel discussions. However, as we were touring the Art Show, she commented, “Some of these pieces are really beautiful, but I can’t see hanging them in my home.” I had to chuckle because, of course, among many of the people I spend time with, science fiction and fantasy themed art is what is “normal,” while the type of pictures my mom has in her home (I especially like the one of the bird in her family room) would be considered “not normal.”
Equally, different environments can make continuing practices that were “normal” a very bad idea. When I started gardening in New Mexico, a friend told me, “You’re used to setting your plants on little hills so they don’t get drowned. Here we put them in hollows so they get enough water.” I thought she was crazy. I rapidly learned she was right – and every year when I dig those hollows for my plants I remember and laugh.
Comfort in shifting between perceptions of normal is important for any writer, but I think especially so for those of us who write science fiction and fantasy. When I was writing the Firekeeper books, I learned to slip into the mind set of someone for whom cooked meat was weird and shoes a burden. More importantly, since the books had several points of view, I had to be able to slip into the perspective of a young man who was a bit shy of the aristocracy with whom he now found himself associating, then into that of a young woman for whom that same aristocracy were family and friends.
What’s weird? What’s normal? All a matter of perspective. And playing with shifting perspective is something I have come to love.